Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

Friends At Work Are Special!

Friends at work can make work fun!Who have been your best friends at work? If you think back on your work history or consider work now, you probably can smile about conversations, lunches or coffee breaks with friends who made work more fun.

My first work friends were Robert Shaugnessy, Roger Kasperson, Rand Hendrickson and Steve Kern. In another assignment I worked with Art Hutchison and Gary Gosage, and I could hardly wait to get to work just to pal around with them. We did a lot of work, but we sure had a good time! Later I worked with Tom Coogan and Rudy Phannenstiel. Bruce Chesy and Joe Goff were great friends, too. John Thompson and Danny O’Hayre were subordinates of mine, but we had a work friendship. The same was true of Larry Amman and Pat Flynn. Larry Homenick was the chief deputy when I was the U.S. Marshal for Colorado, and he and I established a friendship that is still strong. I also knew I could count on the friendship of Pat Mangravito, Sharon Ladd and Sharon Buck, among others.

I would hate to think of what work would have been like without the fun, assistance, support and encouragement those friends offered over the years. In fact, the worst times of my career have been when I have felt I did not have a friend at work and that I was surrounded by people I could not smile with, ask advice from, or even trust most of the time. Have you ever been in a situation like that?

However, as with most good things, there are some warnings and reminders about work friendships (These apply to people at any level of the organization, including supervisors and managers.)

  • Do not be part of an exclusive clique. Being in a group that does everything together and excludes others, much like a snooty sorority or fraternity, may be fun for you and them, but appears very unprofessional to others, including managers. You will not present yourself as a mature person with a strong team approach if you are seen as needing to be part of a club to be happy and productive.

Talk with everyone in a friendly way. Occasionally invite someone else to lunch with you and your best friend at work. Show through your actions that, while you have close friends, you are supportive of everyone who is professionally effective. You may find you enjoy getting outside the same circle of conversation and interests. Linking with others is also a way to gain knowledge and perspectives we might never have otherwise.

  • Carefully choose close friends while being friendly to everyone. Some coworkers will add to your work life and professional development and others will not. You can be friendly and supportive of everyone, without linking with someone who is creating problems for themselves through their work or actions. Being friends with someone you feel sorry for is not a good idea!
  • If someone you do not want to be close to is obviously trying to establish you as a friend at work, be courteous–but find reasons to limit time together. When you do join that person for lunch or breaks, invite someone else. (Have you noticed that figuring out how to distance yourself from someone at work is like saying no when someone asks you for a date and you don’t want to make them feel badly?)

  •  Let your friendships support you in your good work, not detract you from work. Most complaints by managers about work friendships involve excessive conversation, extended breaks, ganging up on others, or covering for each other inappropriately. Among the worst situations are when everyone else has to hear you and your friend discuss your favorite topic, hobby, sport or family concerns every day, while others are working. Your friend is your friend, but your friend doesn’t pay your salary or prepare your evaluation.
  • Think twice about extending friendships away from work. That is especially true if your work friend is of a higher or lower level than you in your organization. In addition, the aspects of your personalities that make you friends at work often do not translate well into activities that include spouses and children. Another problem is that conflicts in your social friendships will almost always affect work. Some people find it easy to be friends in both worlds–just be aware of the pitfalls. 

For most of us, memories of friends are our primary good memories of work. It is people who most enrich our lives and make it fun. Tell your work friends how much you appreciate them. Send a note to work friends from the past and remind them of some of the fun things you enjoyed about working with them. If you are a supervisor or manager, develop friends in other sections so you do not end up feeling isolated. Encourage productive friendships between employees in your workgroup. Everyone works better when they have friend nearby!  

If you want to really smile about your best friend at work, let Mr. Rogers remind you of why that person is special. Click here to listen!

June 15th, 2008 Posted by | Life and Work, Personal and Professional Development | 5 comments


  1. I love Mr. Rogers! What a neat memory! I just told my friends, Kendra Dickerson and Kurt Miles, that they are special! I wouldn’t like work nearly as much without them.

    Comment by denisek | June 16, 2008

  2. Good advice about work friendships away from work. Sometimes it is OK, but a lot of times it ends up causing problems. I’ll add this one to it, that if you socialize away from work with someone, don’t talk about work all the time. No one else is interested and it usually gets everyone involved in something they don’t understand anyway.

    Comment by Wiseacre | June 16, 2008

  3. Have you written something about dating coworkers? We don’t have a policy against it because they say we can’t do that, but it has caused a lot of problems when the people break up but are still working next to each other. Thanks.

    Comment by Linda | June 16, 2008

  4. Thank you, Wiseacre (?) for your comment and great advice. It’s true that family will get very bored with hearing work complaints and problems. Thinking back over time, I recall spending many evenings with Bill Baldi in which his wife and my daughter sat patiently while he and I talked about work–and complained about people! I’m sorry I did it!

    Comment by Tina | June 16, 2008

  5. Linda, I responded to you by email, but will make this comment for general readership. Yes, office romances can be difficult to manage–both for those involved and for supervisors who must deal with the results, good or bad.

    The time to briefly chat with employees is when the supervisor becomes aware of a dating situation. Each should be talked to individually, in a friendly, open manner. That is when having a positive relationship all the time pays off.

    All that needs to be said is something very simple: “I’ve heard that you and XX are dating. I wish you well and won’t get involved in your personal lives at all. I just want to be sure to remind you about the need to stay focused on work at work, and not to let personal situations, good or bad, interfere in any way. You and XX are both great employees so I don’t think that will be a problem, but I would be remiss if I didn’t say something.”

    At this point you can bet the employee will assure you there is nothing to worry about, and you can smile and say you are sure he or she is correct. Then, you can be a bit more specific: Don’t put anything in email they wouldn’t want read by everyone; do not engage in close encounters in closets, back rooms or stairwells; don’t make others uncomfortable with their conversations or actions. DO keep being good employees and being good members of the team. And, if there are problems down the line and the relationship goes back to a work friendship, or becomes unfriendly, it is crucial that they don’t let anger or unhappiness show at work. Certainly neither of them should say or do anything that would be disruptive at work in any way.

    At the end of those conversations, stay out of their relationship unless there is a work reason to become involved again. Avoid romantic counseling or even discussing their private lives, except in the most general ways.

    If there are problems later, you can remind the employees of what you talked about. They can’t very well say they were never warned. Remind them again that their personal feelings can’t be disruptive at work. You may also need to remind one or both of them of the criminal aspects of stalking, harassing or threatening someone!

    A supervisor asked me what to do if someone gets angry over being warned about potential problems. A supervisor is correct to say something, so the employee does not have grounds for a complaint. On the other hand, failing to say something could create serious problems for the supervisor. And, the employee’s demeanor may reinforce why the supervisor felt a need to say something! An employee who becomes angry about appropriate supervisory comments may also not handle the inevitable stresses of an office romance very well!

    Appropriate is the key. Keep the first conversation brief, friendly and non-intrusive.

    Thank you for the comment. It gave me a chance to explain that issue further. T.

    Comment by Tina | June 16, 2008

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